Sugar Blue and DMC - "Next Level" - To me, it makes sense that rap and hip-hop owe a huge debt to the blues. The lyrical content in rap and hip-hop is basically the same as the blues, though the topics and musical content have been updated and magnified at times. The subject was even part of the PBS documentary mini-series, The Blues - A Musical Journey, from several years back. Although not all listeners may agree with the theory, it's hard to argue against it when you hear this recently-released single, which teams the inimitable Sugar Blue with hip-hop legend Darryl "DMC" McDaniels (of Run-DMC fame). With oversight from star producer Sonix the Mad Scientist, "Next Level" begins with Sugar Blue's harmonica (based on the "Hoochie Coochie Man" riff) and vocals and quickly segues into DMC's rap and moves back and forth between the two from that point, backed by Sonix's propulsive rhythms and beats and Sugar Blue's fierce harmonica blowing. I can tell you that you've probably never heard the blues played quite like this, but it is surprisingly successful and effective. This is part of an upcoming EP release from Sugar Blue (that's his harmonica on the Rolling Stones 70's smash, "Miss You") and I certainly want to hear more where this came from. This is definitely the blues taken to the "Next Level."
Mud Morganfield & Kim Wilson - For Pops: A Tribute to Muddy Waters (Severn Records): So apparently, after Severn released Morganfield's last CD (Son of the Seventh Son) and the Fabulous Thunderbird's Severn debut (On The Verge) around the same period of time, label head David Earl was bombarded with emails and phone calls requesting that Morganfield and T-Birds frontman Wilson come together for a recording. Once the two were brought together, it was decided that a tribute to Morganfield's father, Muddy Waters, would be a wonderful idea, with the blues legends 100th birthday fast approaching. Severn then brought together an all-star team of musicians based in the Chicago style (guitarists Billy Flynn and Rusty Zinn, piano man Barrelhouse Chuck), along with their own house rhythm section (bassist Steve Gomes and drummer Robb Stupka). The result is fourteen tunes of pure old school Chicago Blues magic. It's uncanny how much Morganfield sounds like his father on these tracks.....not just the voice, but also the delivery.....and Wilson's harmonica work is equally impressive. All of the tracks are from the Waters catalog, either written or performed by him, and a mix of the familiar and less familiar. I'm sure there will be more than a handful of Muddy Waters tribute releases, documentaries, DVDs, etc....that will be released over the next year, but it's going to be hard for anybody to top this one. If you like Windy City blues the way they used to play them, you should be seeking this one out on August 19th.
Dexter Allen - Bluez Of My Soul (Deep Rush Records): Mississippi-born Allen has been playing music since he was in his daddy's gospel band at age 12. He enjoyed a three-year stint with Bobby Rush's band and lead guitarist, but has fronted his own band for several years now, winning a big following in Mississippi (winning Male Vocalist of the Year at the 2008 Jackson Music Awards). This is his third album, first on Rush's record label, and it's a stellar set of urban and soul/blues that his musical mentor would be right at home with. Allen moves pretty seamlessly from country blues to urban to R&B and funk and even a few tunes that sound like they're out of Bobby Rush's catalog. The great man himself appears on a couple of these tracks, blowing harp and adding vocals, but the spotlight is on Dexter Allen for this release, as he adds his name to the impressive list of up-and-coming Mississippi bluesmen.
The Alastair Greene Band - Trouble At Your Door (Eclecto Groove Records): Guitar/vocalist Greene has backed Alan Parsons since 2010, but he's also led his own band for over fifteen years, backing artists like James Harman, Mitch Kashmar, and Paris Slim. They've also released five albums of muscular blues/rock with his band over that time period, too. The latest features this powerhouse trio working through a dozen tracks, eleven originals and a dynamite cover of the late Michael Burks' "Strange Feeling." Greene is an excellent guitarist and is equally at home with electric, acoustic, and National Steel guitar. He's also a strong vocalist and songwriter as well. This is one of the better blues-rock discs I've heard this year.
Rev. KM Williams - Jukin' In The Holy Land - Live in Israel (Nobody's Fault Productions): I first heard Rev. Williams on the John-Alex Mason tribute, Homeward Bound, where he delivered a stirring version of "Let Jesus Lead You." It had been a lifelong dream of his to visit the Holy Land, and while he was there, he sat down long enough to do three live performances in front of three enthusiastic audiences. This CD captures the best of those performances. Williams plays electric, acoustic, and cigar-box guitars on these ten tracks, and he's backed by a pair of musicians (on harmonica and drums) that he'd never met prior to this trip. You'd never know it, based on how well they work together. If you're not familiar with Williams, and you like the real deal blues, raw and visceral, ragged but right, and mixing the Mississippi Delta and Hill Country with Texas country blues, you need to check out this disc. I plan to investigate further into his catalog when I get a chance.
Davina & the Vagabonds - Sunshine (Roustabout Records): This Minneapolis-based band plays traditional blues and jazz, but gives it a real modern spin. Singer/keyboardist Davina Sowers has a distinctive and very soulful voice and is equally talented as a songwriter and on the keys. Several of the songs are based in New Orleans style, with second-line rhythms, and clarinet and trumpet backing, but there's also a few ventures into pop, blues and even gospel....a splendid version of Patty Griffin's "Heavenly Day" is one of three great covers, the others being the traditional blues, I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water" and Fats Waller's "You Must Be Losing Your Mind." There's no guitar on the album, but chances are that you will never notice because the band is so good, Sowers vocals are so riveting, and the music is so much fun to experience. This should be required listening for traditional blues and jazz fans.
Elam McKnight - Made To Fall (Big Black Hand): On his latest release, McKnight moves beyond his previous releases, which focused on blues or roots or soul music, into a rock and sometimes pop vein. The singer/guitarist is expanding his musical palate, if you will, and he succeeds in proving that there's much more to his sound. Most of the disc has a late 60's vibe, with catchy Beatlesque hooks on some tunes, while others songs have a soul/rock edge to them, a la Rare Earth (see below). There's also a few tracks that veer slightly toward the country spectrum, along with some tight blues rockers. Of course, the root of all of McKnight's music is the blues, and the blues is never too far from anything he releases. and the same thing applies to Made To Fall. All this means that while his longtime fans will certainly enjoy this release, it is also recommended to fans of rock, country, and soul, and may bring the Tennessee-based performer's talents around to some new fans as well.